Exposing a Fish-Killing Dam

January 9, 2014

The White River is one of Washington’s most wild and beautiful, draining the mighty glaciers of Mount Rainier as it rushes through high mountain forests, two tribal reservations, and assorted suburbs before it empties into Puget Sound in Tacoma. But here’s the weird thing, in 2013, as millions of dollars are spent on salmon recovery around Puget Sound every year, there’s still an old-fashioned fish-blocking dam on the White. It’s called Buckley Diversion Dam and it’s a decrepit old thing that kills hundreds of thousands of salmon every other year, including the endangered Spring Chinook. Because the dam is far upriver, it’s been out of sight and out of mind for many years. So the fish have kept dying, despite the heroic efforts of Tribal biologists and local advocates. In late 2012, South Puget Sound’s The Russell Family Foundation decided to try to change the game. They began by convening local advocates, and decided to bring Resource Media into to mix to help tell the story of this damned dam to new audiences around the Sound.


  • Produced and distributed a hard-hitting documentary film that tells the story of the dam and the campaign to bring it up to modern standards and bring back White River salmon;
  • Secured strong news coverage – including two opinion pieces, a news-leading television piece, assorted newspaper stories and a radio piece that ran nationwide – to tell the story of the great fish kill of 2013 at the Dam;
  • Convened tribal leaders, conservationists and local government leaders to work together to tell the story of the Dam to local and national decision-makers;
  • Supported a national action alert by American Rivers that resulted in over 12,000 emails being sent to the Dam’s owners, the Army Corps of Engineers, urging it to fix the dam soon.


Partners often ask us how we measure the impact of communications campaigns, and the Buckley Dam project is a great example of the big political shifts that a visually oriented communications effort can create. The Buckley Dam story went from back-of-the-back-burner to front-page news, and this electrified the many people who had been working on the issue in relative obscurity. They were able to cohere a newly powerful coalition, get the attention of national decision-makers and tell their story easily and powerfully because of the short film. While the Army Corps has not yet committed to a full fix of the dam, heat is building at all levels of government and advocacy so that the last big Puget Sound fish barrier will be upgraded for good.